Roger Griffin is professor of history at Oxford Brookes University and a specialist in fascism and nationalism – a knowledge which, strange as it may seem, he brings to the dance floor. “Rave is like a positive Nuremberg Rally,” he says. “Everyone is involved in individual expression, but the mass is as one.”
Professor Griffin didn’t “get” techno when he first heard it: “I couldn’t get beyond the beat.” But after his wife took him to an Exodus party in Luton, he began raving. Since then he has been to all-nighters at the rate of about one a week and, in between writing books on twentieth-century nationalism, has written sleeve notes for CDs. He says the scene has “changed his life”, and he brings to the rave a mass of historical references from Dionysus to William Blake.
I am old enough to have lived through the last collective bid by a counter-culture to regenerate the West in what people call the hippie era. Vital seeds of a new way of life were sown and lives were changed but the revolution of consciousness failed to go further than the minds of white, middle class youth. My own response to this failure was to become a perpetual student, to use my academic career to investigate history, culture and alternative realities from the safety of lecture halls and libraries. I ended up analysing the political equivalent of cancer, fascism, in a protracted case-study of how vital spiritual and mythic energies can be mischanneled into destruction.
Then I discovered something that, for someone who had who had taken the idealism of the 60’s literally, was a dream come true: the rave. Big raves, small raves, expensive raves, free raves: going to raves, it became luminously clear that something very special is happening, not just to those who go, but to modern society. Essentially, I saw people going back to one of the original meanings of music, to the root experience of trance and dance: transcendence.
It is dangerous to theorize about rave culture. It takes many forms. It has sides that are pseudo, commercial, empty, boring, cynical, self-destructive and tragic. It can be no more than a pretext to take drugs. It may act as a superglue holding together lives that are otherwise full of despair and emptiness. Not everybody has a good time all of the time. But perhaps that is all part of rave’s alchemy.
It takes the private energies, negative and positive, sorted and unsorted, co-ordinated and unco-ordinated, and transforms them into a whole infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. When the music, the setting and the people gel, when a critical mass of collective energy and euphoria is reached, then the raver enters a state the Greeks in their Dionysian rituals called enthusiasm, or “revealing the god within”.
At the point when the darkness of the rave becomes enlightenment, some of the vacuous cliches of the 60’s counterculture turn to reality. Class, generation, gender, ethic and political conflicts melt, individuals are temporarily reborn. They become participants in something much greater than themselves. The microcosm of the small self moves to within sparking distance of the macrocosmic Self. The old personality is temporarily destroyed to give rise to the new, laying bare the deeper meaning of ‘recreational’ experience. The neo-cortex is reconnected to the limbic brain, the mind teams up with the body instead of behaving like its master.
The human brian has three different genetic layers: old, middle and new. The limbic is the oldest, dealing with the fright, flight and adrenaline necessary for basic survival. It is also the part of the brain that responds to rhythm. The newest part of the brain, the neo-cortex, is where the higher cognitive powers of math, awareness and abstract thought are formed.
One of the things that happens at a good rave is that these two parts of the brain get properly wired up. There’s a coming together of mind and body. With this union the regenerative experience of years of therapy are packed into a few hours of release and internalized deep within the body memory as a reservoir of hidden psychic strength. Historically Jungian, re-birthing and most non-Freudian therapies have attempted to find a harmony between the inner and outer, the animal and higher brain. What can happen in a rave is that you temporarily get a sense of oneness with you mind, body and the people dancing around you. It’s like a mainline to a state that is theorized about but difficult to achieve.
With dance and music temporary neuroses get suspended – it’s like a sustained glimpse of a higher state of being. If this force could ever permeate society as a whole, the cancers of greed, materialism, nationalism and ecological destruction would finally be reversed.
Through a synergy between technology and creativity, avant-garde and popular music, alternative and popular culture which could never have been anticipated and never happened at any other point in history, rave culture has rediscovered the deepest significance of the dance. Not through books but through experience. Dance originally had a deep ritual significance. Dance originally enacted the eternal rhythm of creation and destruction that lies at the heart of life, energy and matter itself. Dance was the door that opened into paradise, perpetually present as a virtual reality but invisible in “normal”, non-ritual life. Dance was the means of communicating directly with the goddess. Dance was performed in the original labyrinth in Crete as the magical act that would enable the spell of the Minotaur to be
In its ritual manifestation dance turned existence (from the Latin, meaning being outside) to ecstasy (from the Greek, meaning being beyond). It made possible the journey from the private experience of life to a vantage point beyond individual reality. This is the deeper significance of trance, a word which originally meant “going across”. The rave of today still resonates with this ancient ritual power.
Experimental psychologists at Birmingham University have recognized that the rave experience induces a state of ‘non-specific happiness’. They also proved that the more often people have the experience the easier that happiness is accessed and sustained. The source of this happiness may be physically connected to hyperventilation, of getting consciousness literally out of the neo-cortex and into the limbic brain so that dancers are ‘out of their heads’. And when external drugs are used in the right doses to help release the psychedelic drugs naturally secreted by the brain, the endorphins, the euphoria can be further enhanced (though it’s good to remember the motto of the visionary William Blake: “No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings”). But the happiness is, for many, also something more primitive, more spiritual, more sacred: it is the subjective experience of communion; it is the suspension of ordinary, individual time and the entry into special time.
The Greeks even had two words for these two types of time: khronos, meaning clock-time, and kairon for this other, suspended, magical, party time.
Rave culture allows the hologram of another dimension to shoot out of the two-dimensional poster of everyday existence. When the lone dancer connects with the collective experience by moving to the music, the latent magic of life becomes blatant. It is an experience accessible to anyone prepared to let their ‘self’ go. The ravers keep their individual identity but simultaneously behave like the pixels of colour forming the surreal patterns generated on computers by the equations of chaos Hail Eris! theory. This is also spiritual democracy.
Every ‘good’ rave offers the chance to visit an Edenic time before time, to re-enter the paradise of integrated being. The meaning of any of these words about rave culture cannot be discovered by simply reading them. You have to dance to the music and find the collective rapture that has inspired these words. In the beginning was not the word, but the dance. In a few generations, a twinkling of the cosmic eye, technology has succeeded in destroying the balance of earth’s eco-system. It is a sublime paradox that, as the end game of human history plays itself out, an offshoot of this same technology is providing a growing number of those condemned to live in this blighted civilization with a way to re-establish our harmony with creation, to achieve transcendence, to return to the source.
— excerpt from the liner notes of Deep Trance and Ritual Beats on Return To The Source records